Withnail & I interiors up for auction

Time to bid for a Victorian mahogany armchair, lead garden urn and library ladders from the cult film, says Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

You liked the film? You're word perfect on its cracking script? Now is your chance to buy the furniture. This Sunday, paintings, furniture and furnishings from cult film Withnail & I (1986) are going under the hammer at the Christies South Kensington saleroom.

The auction, which is selling the contents from West House (the filming location of Uncle Monty's Chelsea townhouse), is expected to draw fans of the film. Of which there are plenty. The riotous black comedy, featuring the boozing and smoking misadventures of two unemployed actors played by Richard E Grant and Paul McCann, is one of Britain's biggest cult films.

Movie memorabilia has a market of its own making it nigh on impossible to value lots before auction. ‘Provenance plays a large part in valuing any object, and associations with a celebrity can add another element into the process,' explains Kate McKenzine, Specialist at Christie's. 'In this case, however, we did not factor in the Withnail and I link when valuing the lots.'

There are 227 lots that will be offered from West House, many of which never made it onto the big screen. The auction is expected to reach in the region of £200,000. In real life, West House itself is rather a gem among the interior designer circle. Designed in 1868 by Philip Webb, the Arts and Crafts architect responsible for William Morris’s Red House, the house has featured in Tatler, House & Garden and Vogue. The owner Professor Bernard Nevill, design director of Liberty during the Sixties and Seventies, spent over thirty years perfecting the interior. Dubbed the ‘forerunner of shabby chic style’, Nevill amassed the collection that is going under the hammer this Sunday.

Fine antiques in this weekend's auction include an early 19th century mahogany (tattered but comfortable-looking) armchair (lot 11, estimate £500- £800), a trio of late 19th century pine library ladders (lot 9, estimate £500-800) and a pair of 19th century alabaster figures (lot 58, £300-£500). Quirkier items in the collection, which may draw more interest, include a Victorian servant’s call box (lot 37, estimate £200-£400), a fine example of an Edwardian mahogany tennis racquet stand (lot 72, estimate £400-600) and an early Victorian mahogany wine cooler (lot 213, estimate £1,500-£2,500). The most expensive lot in the auction is a sporting painting by Maud Earl (1863-1943) depicting a pack of dogs called The Lost Scent (lot 223, estimate £8000-£12,000).

Will the Withnail & I connection boost the value of the lots? Judging by past Withnail & I auctions, these film star furnishings may reap substantial financial rewards this weekend. In 2009, Uncle Monty’s tumbledown Cumbrian farmhouse sold at auction for £265,000; considerably more than its modest £145,000 estimate. Nine years earlier, Chris Evans paid £8,000 for Withnail’s ragged Harris check coat at a West End charity auction in aid of Richard E Grant’s former school in Swaziland.

'I hope that fans of the film attend the sale or bid online, but whether that will have an effect on the prices achieved remains to be seen,' says McKenzine. 'They are lovely antique furnishings with or without the cult film history attached to them.'

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.